May 16, 2023 at 2:36 p.m.

Back in the boat

Back in the boat
Back in the boat

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Jensen appreciates support after life-threatening pancreatic injury  

Like other walleye fishing openers, John “JJ” Jensen launched his boat May 13 eager to catch fish. This Melrose man did it with a new appreciation for his favorite pastime. 

On Oct. 21, 2022, he suffered a life-threatening injury to his pancreas during a boat-related incident, and he is grateful to be alive, appreciating the medical care he received and support from family and friends.    

“Now, this is a memory, not a good memory,” he said May 9 sitting in the kitchen with wife Pam.

Inserting humor into what was a serious situation, this retired Melrose police chief recalls the “scene of the crime.” 

It was a nice October day, and he was calling it a day after fishing near their Otter Tail County cabin. He lifted the trolling motor out of the water, something he has done hundreds of times. 

“I leaned forward, like I always do, and put my hand on the front seat because it’s a bass boat and the front is a casting platform. I grabbed the handle to lift up the trolling motor. The front seat swiveled and my hand went forward and so did I, and I wasn’t able to catch myself and landed with my full weight on the head of the trolling motor,” he explained.

He felt some discomfort, but nothing he couldn’t deal with. 

“At the time it seemed so insignificant I didn’t even tell Pam,” he said. 

Four days later, after visiting daughter Jessie’s family in their Avon home, he experienced heartburn, an uncommon symptom for him, but he thought nothing of it. The next morning he woke up with what he thought was the stomach flu, encouraging Pam to go on a planned trip to visit her mom in Moorhead. By the next morning his stomach was distended, so he drove himself to the CentraCare-Melrose Clinic and was directed to the emergency room. 

“They drew blood and a short time later came in and said, ‘Your pancreas is really angry,’” he said.  

He called Pam and she and their son, Joey, of Sauk Centre, and Jessie came to the ER while medical staff ran more tests.   

After an extended stay in the ER, the physician on call, Dr. Kurt Schwieters, transferred him to M Health University of Minnesota Medical Center. It was John’s first time in the back of an ambulance as a patient, although he has done so many times as a law enforcement officer.    

“I was in my room no more than 15 minutes and down to surgery I went,” John said, Pam adding he was in surgery before they arrived. 

Two tubes were inserted into his stomach to drain fluid from the affected area. 

 John was diagnosed with necrotizing pancreatitis, after a portion of his pancreas died. 

He had three teams of doctors; a gastro-intestinal team, a diabetic team and a team dealing with his pancreas.   

He was placed on antibiotics to deal with infection. During extensive pancreatic necrosis like this, there is a loss of overall islet mass leading to loss of insulin, with large fluctuations in blood glucose, so John was started on insulin. 

 Among the reasons they were given for a damaged pancreas were excessive alcohol consumption, gallstones and trauma. 

“Not much” was John’s answer when asked about his alcohol consumption, and he was not in a car accident. Although he was incoherent much of the time, a light bulb went off. “Oh, I fell in the boat,” he told the doctor. It was determined that was the cause of his pancreas problem.  

The head pancreatic doctor took an interest in his case and how rare it was that his pancreas died so quickly – about five days after his fall.  

“He had never seen necrotizing pancreatitis advance that fast, from the time of injury to the onset of symptoms,” John said.  

Encouraged to take walks, John, with his IV pole in tow, walked around the intensive care unit where he saw people worse off than he was. 

“It made you appreciate things,” said Pam, a daily visitor. 

He spent 12 days in the hospital and returned home with two drainage tubes.

During a Jan. 5 surgery three-quarters of his pancreas was removed, his drainage tubes intact when he left the hospital.

Six weeks later one drain tube was removed.

He emptied fluid from an apple-sized bulb at the end of his remaining drain tube 10 to 15 times a day, figuring the drainage was good. But during a procedure it was discovered his drain tube had migrated into his stomach and lower intestine and gastric juice was being drained out. The tube was stitched back into its original location and three stents were added.  

Two weeks ago, his final drain tube was removed but the stents remain. He returns to M Health June 6 when it will be determined if his stents can be removed. 

Initially, they were told it would be a long process to get John healthy again – and it has been.

Controlling his blood sugar levels is something he will deal with the rest of his life as a type 1 diabetic. 

“I can live with one-quarter of my pancreas but it turned me into a diabetic, with an insulin regime,” he said. 

The enzyme-producing pancreas aids in the digestion process. Creon is a medication used to treat people who cannot digest food normally because their pancreas does not make enough enzymes. Before meals John takes four Creon capsules and two capsules before eating snacks.

“Over the last six months Pam is the one who stayed on top of all of that stuff,” John said, glancing at his wife of 40 years.

Through this all, he has not been in much pain. 

“But you are always tired with no energy and very little appetite,” said John, who stares at a plate of his homemade chocolate chip pecan cookies on the table.

He lost close to 50 pounds.  

“Many times, we didn’t know if we would have a good ending,” Pam said. “It’s definitely a miracle that he lived through this. It was very possible he could have died from that injury.”  

They are grateful for the support, including neighbors who helped with snow removal.

 While they credit his recovery to the medical staff, they also believe in the power of prayer. 

“People find out you are in the hospital and they start praying for you,” John said.  

Their pastor from Sauk Centre made home visits, a friend included him on a prayer chain and her son said his five daughters included John in their prayers each night. 

“Prayers truly help, and since I’m still here, obviously, the Good Lord has plans for me. Who knows what that is,” John said.

On May 9, that included golfing at Meadowlark Country Club with Pam. 

 “Six months ago, we didn’t know if we were going to do any of that,” she said.  

On May 13, John was in his boat fishing, alone, since Pam doesn’t fish.   

“Like anybody who has gone through something like this, you never know from one moment to the next how quickly your life can change,” John said. “Was it something I did that was careless? No. When I lift the trolling motor now, will I be super careful? Yes.” 

At 64, John hopes to be in his boat on a lake many more fishing openers. 


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